By Kate Duguid
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar slid to a seven-week low against the Japanese yen on Friday after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell suggested the central bank could cut interest rates in the wake of the coronavirus.
Powell on Friday said the central bank will “act as appropriate” to support the economy in the face of risks posed by the coronavirus outbreak, though he said the economy remained in solid condition.
The Japanese yen
The dollar index was last down 0.324% to 98.127 <=USD>, down about 1% this week on rising expectations of a rate cut. A cut of at least 25 basis points at the Fed’s March meeting was fully priced in on Friday, versus expectations of 57.6% on Thursday.
Some investors suggested the Fed could even cut rates sooner.
“It’s likely that markets will force the Fed to cut even before the March 18 meeting, and the question is, will that matter? Will that be enough to settle down markets in the near term?” said Bill Zox, chief investment officer for fixed income, at Diamond Hill Capital.
The yield on the two-year Treasury note
The rapid spread of the coronavirus increased fears of a pandemic, with six countries reporting their first cases and the World Health Organization (WHO) raising its global spread and impact risk alert to “very high”.
“The yen is significantly stronger from where it was even last week, when I was hearing people saying that the yen wasn’t a safe-haven anymore. We’re now back to appropriate levels,” said Mark McCormick, global head of foreign exchange strategy at TD Securities.
McCormick said one additional factor supporting the yen could be the fact that Japan’s public pension funds have been rebalancing assets.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the (Japanese Government Pension Investment Fund) is trading ahead of the announcements of their weights, which if you think about what they’ve done over the past five years, they’ve created an allocation that leans much more towards global equities, global credit, global fixed income – which in this environment would see dollar-yen rally as they’re pushing some of their flows outside of Japan.”
(This story has been refiled to correct Zox title in 6th paragraph)
(Reporting by Kate Duguid in New York and by Olga Cotaga in London; Editing by Diane Craft and David Gregorio)